Lost manuscript behind Scream: The Tyson Tapes is fitting legacy from the tortured career of tragic boxing writer Jonathan Rendall

New Boxing Books

  • Journalist covered career of world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson
  • Manuscript found in bin bag of Rendall's possessions after his death
  • Focus on Tyson's early years with trainer Cus D'Amato
  • Brilliant debut book This Bloody Mary republished

Among several noteworthy boxing books published in recent weeks, two stand out, not least for the poignancy of their appearance two years after the tragically premature death of the author. 

Jonathan Rendall was a writer of rare talent, who struggled with journalistic disciplines but who was capable of delivering prose of such brilliance that at times he was compared to Damon Runyan and Hunter S Thompson.  Tom Stoppard and Tom Wolfe were fans of his work.

He was at his peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he wrote at different times for the the Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Observer and the short-lived Sunday Correspondent, mainly about boxing, sometimes about gambling and drinking, subjects which offer a fair insight into the life he led.  For a period, he also managed the former world featherweight boxing champion, Colin 'Sweet C' McMillan.

Friends would testify that his life was turbulent, to say the least, punctuated by wild swings in his fortunes and mood.  Yet he managed to have published three books before, in January 2013, he was found dead at his home in Ipswich, where he lived alone, aged only 48.  The circumstances could not be fully explained, although the coroner's verdict was one of natural causes.

The first of those books, This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own, in which he reflected on his time in boxing at the point he decided to quit the sport, wrote won him Somerset Maugham Award in 1998.  It was republished my Faber & Faber in paperback November last year.

Mike Tyson
(picture courtesy of YouTube)
Rendall also wrote Twelve Grand, a project in which he was given that amount of money by the publishers Yellow Jersey on the sole condition that he used it only for gambling and wrote about the experience, whether he won or lost.  Naturally, all of it slipped through his hands, but the upshot was another extraordinary piece of work.  Also, following his own whim as an adopted child, taken into care after only 38 days, he set out to find his real mother and produced a deeply moving account of his quest, Garden Hopping, published in 2006.

Now there is a fourth, Scream: The Tyson Tapes, published posthumously by Short Books, the manuscript for which was discovered in a bin bag of possessions retrieved from his home after his death.   It was not until after his funeral that it came to light.

Rendall had been commissioned in 2005 to write a biography of Tyson, having followed his career closely during his years with the Sunday Correspondent and the Independent on Sunday, and paid an advance.  The book was due to be published in 2007 but never appeared.  Ultimately his publisher ran out of patience and gave up on the project, although a search of the Amazon website for Scream: The Real Mike Tyson will still bring up the proposed cover illustration and the publication date, accompanied by the notation 'currently unavailable'.

If he never finished, though, Rendall did make a start, interviewing people who knew Tyson during the early years of his career, from the time he was adopted by Cus D’Amato, who had trained the former world champion of Floyd Patterson, and his partner Camille Ewald, who took him from the gang-ridden streets of Brooklyn, out of reform school and into the rarified setting of D'Amato's mansion, becoming his legal guardians.  Scream: The Tyson Tapes is the record of those interviews.

Rendall talked among others to Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney, who worked for D'Amato and were closely involved in training Tyson, and to Jay Bright and Steve Lott, who were his cornermen.  Richard Williams, who knew Randall as a fellow journalist and who wrote an evocative tribute to him in the Observer, has edited the manuscript on behalf of the publishers.  He discovered that Rendall had interspersed their recollections with passages written as he imagined Tyson would have told his own story, producing a unique account of his rise to fame.

It is a long way from the book he had been commissioned to deliver but adds something substantial and original to the Tyson archive, nonetheless.

Buy This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Scream: The Tyson Tapes from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.



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